Monday, April 23, 2018

Experience from Neelam Kumar, author of "To Cancer, With Love"

Experience—March 2018, Zadenkai

(As I publish this blog tonight, Neelam's mother has been very ill. 
Please join me in chanting for Neelam's Mother's full recovery (Jamie) 

Two years back, I was at the peak of my life’s contentment. I had faced the struggles of 23 years of widowhood bravely; had completed my duties of getting my 2 children married off; had spent more than two decades in a top position in a top company and had written 5 popular fiction books. I was all set to sit back and heave a sigh of relief when Cancer struck me with a vengeance a 2nd time.
 I must admit, lying alone on that cold hospital stretcher, I asked myself whether there was really any purpose left to my life.  With my doting husband gone, nobody actually needed me anymore.
Under attack, my weak body collapsed, but my spirit, forged in the fire of 12 years of Buddhist practice soared high, bright and resilient. The first decision I made was an important one. I would live--joyously and meaningfully. The second decision: I would cling to the Gosho and chant daimoku with  “ a never-say-die attitude” to get clarity of why I had been spared.
Disappointed at not finding any “happy literature” on Cancer in India, I simply decided to write one to cheer myself up. To my surprise, that book, “To Cancer, With Love—My Journey of Joy” zoomed up to become a bestseller, emerging as India’s 1st joyous book on Cancer. More importantly, readers from all over the world began contacting me and telling me how my words had given them hope, courage and the strength to fight on.
I was taken aback by readers’ response. Cancer fighters began reaching out to me to say what a hellish state they felt they were in.
At that time I came across Sensei’s guidance: “The world of Hell is a state in which life is itself painful; where anything you see makes you feel miserable. Such people need someone—anyone—to be at their side. They need someone who will be there for them, to listen and offer even just a few words of encouragement.”  I decided I would be that person. And would use each dialogue as an opportunity to talk about Buddhism.
I had no hair, no eyelashes, no eyebrows, but to my surprise, at that juncture, I suddenly became famous! I began to be approached by newspapers and magazines for interviews. To my horror, even while I was shuddering inside like a coward at this wave of public adulation, people actually started celebrating me as a symbol of courage! I took a deep breath, chanted soundlessly and smiled. So, Gohonzon… this is the role you have in mind for me, I asked?  But I needed the strength of the strongest armor to cloak me.
So I plunged myself into my Practise. I launched on my 7th million daimoku; never missed my gongyo even on crazily busy days; woke up early to pack in at least an hour of chanting before leaving for work; home visited and shaku bukud with immense vigour, focused on winning in all the campaigns and targets Sensei set for us. I backed all this up with solid Study, not missing a single meeting. The Block in which I was earlier, became a Shinichi district and I began to be called “Shaku buku Queen.” I do not remember a day when I have missed reading the Gosho. I am now on the second reading of Gosho 1 and Gosho 2.
Emboldened by the success of my book, I decided to write India’s first Graphic Novel—comic book--on Cancer that would cater to our rushed, deadline-driven times of short attention spans. When I learnt that the funds to create it were unaffordable, I left it to Gohonzon. Sure enough, mystically, 2 Indian legends-Mr Ratan Tata and Mr Amitabh Bachchan stepped forward to praise my writing, to fund it and ensure that I wrote my comic book for these grim times when India is sitting on a Cancer time bomb. The funds were so generous that I wrote not one but 3 books on Cancer.
What was so special about them? The fact that in each book I have described how my faith in Nichiren Buddhism has helped me overcome the doctors’ diagnosis. This, I told Gohonzon are my kosen rufu books.
The Daishonin has assured us that when we concentrate on kosen rufu, benefits pour into our lives from thousands of miles away. 
Sure enough, benefits flooded in.
In October 2017, my 88 year old mother was handed back to me from ICU. I was told that I must take her home as her crater-like, pus filled bedsore was untreatable and would not make her last more than 48 hours. I nursed her at home, pouring daimoku into her wound. 5 months later, today, her bedsore is completely gone and she is better than ever.
I began to be invited to give Motivational Talks at hitherto unimaginable places—fancy corporates, institutes and organizations. And, pumped on the power of hours of daimoku, each time I would launch on my favorite topic,  Buddhism, the moment the audience asked me—So how did you get the courage to face it?
My big benefit was, receiving a personal message from Sensei for my books.
And then came the awards—all from unimaginable places.
1.The very Convent School that had labelled me as “Wood Sitting on Wood” and predicted I would never learn the English language honored me with a Trophy for being an Outstanding Alumni.
2. The Nargis Dutt Memorial Trophy for outstanding work in the field of creating cancer awareness through my books has been another surprise.
3. This month, 2 significant awards have come my way—the Inspiring Indian Woman Award 2018 from IIW, London as well as Glenmark’s  V Wash 2018 Woman of the Year award for changing the narrative of Cancer in India from grimness to hope.
I must admit, I asked Gohonzon one day, I wish I was my younger, pretty self. I would have looked nice receiving these awards. That day I read Sensei’s words, “There is no retirement age in faith.”  Nichiren Daishonin has said about those who embrace the Mystic Law, “You will grow younger and your good fortune will accumulate.”
That day, a big company approached me for a few shots they wanted to take of me on Madh Island. I embraced the excitement of being made up and clothed by a stylist, of being asked to pose on a boat and the beach. I sank into the warm feeling of being pampered like a star.
Last week I woke up to pictures of me perched atop Bangalore’s MG Road. The 30 by 20 hoarding says—“When Cancer visited me a second time, I pulled out the mightiest weapon—my pen”
Had I ever imagined that I would be modelling at my age? That people would actually look at my photo shopped face and say—you look so pretty. And better—so young!

My heart is filled with gratitude as I realize that actually this phase of my life is not mine at all. It is for those countless Indians who draw strength from just looking at me and label me as Inspirational. This phase of my life is my actual Kosen rufu phase. In these grim times when 1,500 Indians are succumbing to Cancer each day, I am so grateful for getting the opportunity to touch a million lives with my written and spoken words and shine the powerful beacon of hope, courage and joy embodied in Buddhism into their lives.
Finally, the hurt of my 3 younger devars dispossessing me of our ancestral home after I was widowed, is healing. Finally, I am NEEDED. The stage is my entire country; its inhabitants are my kosen rufu family.
Dear Cancer, thank you for visiting me twice and revealing to me my mission in this life.
Dear Gohonzon, now I realise why my life has been spared. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to turn “poison into medicine.”
Dear Sensei, as you turn 90, I realise the magnitude of the kosen rufu I must do through my life to become your worthy disciple.
I determine to use my pen, my words, my body and each remaining breath for the eternal honor of spreading kosen rufu.
Ikeda Sensei says, “May you live in such a way
That others will say,
“She is a woman who, though ordinary,
Somehow stands out,
And has a beautiful story to tell.”

Thank you!
Neelam Kumar

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